62

2nd Ramadan

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have turned 62.

I was finally able to convince dad to buy a new sofa. Our current one is old and tired, and the cushions are in desperate need of changing – but no one makes B-shaped cushions this size anymore. I was thrilled when he agreed, thrilled when we eventually decided on which kind, and I was still thrilled when making the deposit. A new sofa…that would really change the look of the house. I hit submit.

And immediately, my heart sank to the pit of my stomach. A new sofa…means getting rid of the current sofa. The sofa mum liked, and chose, and bought when furnishing our new home in 1996. A new sofa means…not looking at the armchair and seeing her sitting there. A new sofa means…losing a tangible part of my memory of her. A new sofa means…disrupting her interior design. It’s not like we haven’t moved things around since she died, or purchased new stuff. But the sofa set is a major part of the house…it feels wrong.

Truth be told, I have half a mind to shove the current sofa set into the spare room; it doesn’t matter that it wouldn’t be where she left it, as long as I could still see it if I wanted to.

In four short years, it’ll be 18 years since she passed – the exact number of years my mother’s father had been dead when I asked her, all innocently and impropos of nothing, “Do you still miss him? Do you still cry?” To which she answered, “Yes, I still miss him a lot. Yes, I still cry.” If somebody were to ask me the same questions in 2022, I would say the same thing.

How could a person whose toes I still see poking out of the sandals that I don’t have the heart to throw away, whose cracked heels I still feel on my legs where she would deliberately rub against to annoy me, whose random notes are still everywhere in the house, whose legendary fried rice I still taste in my mouth, whose mirror still reflects her face, whose laugh I hear when I laugh…

How could a person so, so alive in my mind be so, so dead?

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Mother’s Day

What is this being an adult woman and having a mother thing? I don’t understand it.

I miss my mother; I miss it when life was a party to be thrown but that was a million years ago

My mother. She died. I’ve known this for 12 years. But knowing is one thing. Suddenly realising is another. This realisation hit me suddenly, for the hundredth thousandth time yesterday, and for the hundredth thousandth time, it broke me.

I don’t know when, but dad transferred mum’s clothes from one section of the wardrobe to another, and now I can’t find her favourite light green nightgown with the frilly sleeves. I asked dad do you remember her light green nightgown with the frilly sleeves, how could you forget it, she wore it all the time. He said no. I said is there a possibility you might have thrown it away. He said yes. So last night instead of sleeping, I cried and cried and cried.

This morning, surly from the lack of sleep and from remembering why, I made small talk with my colleague who just returned from spending all of last week in Belgium visiting her parents for her mum’s birthday. She said she had a great holiday, her mum really enjoyed having her home, and when it came time for her to leave, complained that it was too soon – “You know how mums are.” Do I? My memory of “how mums are” is quite blurry, seeing as the last one was from 2004, but I said, “Yes, I sure do,” as one should, and then proceeded to cry upwards at my desk all day.

So…it’s been one of those days. My mum being gone will soon return to being background noise. But for now, I’ll let it take centre stage.

 

Twelve

And just like that, 12 years have gone by.

The mirrors haven’t reflected her face for 12 years now.

Her frilly light green nightgown hasn’t been worn for 12 years now.

Her hijabs haven’t touched her hair for 12 years now.

I haven’t touched her for 12 years now.

I had this thought recently. I’m five years slow in realising this – I don’t know how it could have taken me this long – but she hasn’t lived in this house longer than she ever did. We moved here in 1997; she passed away in 2004. That’s seven years of presence versus 12 years of absence. And yet she is still in every corner. There is nowhere I can look without seeing her in my mind’s eye.

I never wrote about this, but this time last year I was in Waterford, Ireland, and after writing a post about it being the 11th year, I was drifting to sleep and felt someone hugging me from behind – spooning me, really. I instantly knew it was my mother. After all, having her be the big spoon was one of our favourite activities – yes, even when I was as old as 19. I heard her voice say, “Don’t turn around. I’ll just hold you.” But I wanted to turn to look at her anyway. I pushed, and was met with resistance. She cautioned me again not to. But I didn’t listen. I pushed hard as she raised her voice: “I told you not to!” She dug her long fingernail into my back as punishment and of course, I was able to turn my neck fully around and…she wasn’t there.

I don’t know if I was awake and she really came to visit, or it was a combination of lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis, but my back did hurt a lot from where she had pressed her fingernail.

I’d like to think it was her though, coming all the way to Ireland to comfort her crying child.

And if I rise, we’ll rise together

For a brief moment at my cousin’s wedding yesterday, I wondered where mum was.

And then I spent the next ten minutes crying upwards and the next few hours imagining what she would look like in 2016.

Her style of hijab would have changed, that’s for sure. Back in 2004 people were still wearing those big square ones you’d have to fold yourself, and tuck in with pins. Most people wear instant shawls these days. What would she look like in an instant shawl?

Would she have put on weight, or lost some?

Changed her glasses to bifocals?

Grown more grey hair?

Would she reprimand people for greeting me with “When are you getting married?” instead of “How are you and what drives you?” Would she be unlike everyone else and be proud of me for becoming an independent, self-reliant woman? For always being true to myself? For inheriting her spunk? For my world travels?

How would she feel about being 60 years old?

Would I have pictures with her on my phone? I have zero pictures of my mum on my phone.

I found this song today at work and cried four tissues’ worth of tears at my desk. At home I watched the video again, and I found myself crying; pleading, “Don’t die. Don’t die.” Just like I did the night when we thought she was dying, and I sat at the foot of her bed, bawling into my aunt’s lap. I could plead all I wanted. She died two nights later.

Exactly one month until the 12th year. It does get easier. Sometimes it’s almost okay. But other times it really isn’t.

And you’re just gonna have to cry yourself to sleep like I will tonight.

1000 oceans

3rd Ramadan

For iftar (breaking of the fast) dad fried up some frozen epok-epok (Malay-style curry puffs) that he’d bought. I knew it wouldn’t taste good. I haven’t had legit good epok-epok since…well, I’ll tell you later. And if they’re frozen? Even worse.

I expected it to taste horrible so didn’t bother to make a comment. But dad did. “Those epok-epok were terrible, weren’t they? The potato curry was sweet?! Who makes sweet curry?!”

I decided to chime in with the honest-to-God truth – “No one can beat mum’s epok-epok. I have not had good epok-epok since mum died.” Dad said, “Yes. Hers were the best ever.”

One of my aunts tried to replicate mum’s recipe a few years ago and nervously asked me to judge it, knowing full well I know my epok-epok, having eaten mum’s my whole life and that I probably would not like it. And I didn’t. It wasn’t bad. It was better than most other people’s, but it was nowhere close to mum’s. She knew that, so she wasn’t hurt or anything. But since then whenever she makes them she never calls me over. 🙂

Yesterday my cousin A#2, who is eleven weeks pregnant, went for a checkup. At night she told me all about it, and then lamented, “If your mum were still here, I’m sure she would be so happy. I’m sure when the baby is born she would give him or her ‘kiss 1 and kiss 2’.”

See, my mum loved children, and she doted on her nieces and nephews. (She was especially close to A#2, which is why she is forever coming to me with her thoughts on my mum. I like it. It makes me feel less alone.) She liked to kiss their cheeks and before kissing each cheek she would proclaim, “Kiss 1/kiss 2!”

My cousin made me cry at 11:45pm and I told her so. She was sorry, but she was crying too.

This is the thirteenth Ramadan without her and it has not gotten easier.

60

18/05. It is my mum’s birthday. She would have turned 60 today, except that she won’t because she died in 2004.

1805 is also the password to my phone. Because I try to include any semblance of her in my life. Because what better set of numbers could there be?

I won’t lie – when I was thinking earlier this month about mum’s birthday, I had to use a calculator to count her age. When you haven’t celebrated your mum’s birthday for 11 years, you don’t have a need to remember her age. The brain automatically forgets. Every year I have to calculate because I can never remember.

This is the second milestone birthday she’s missed. We‘ve missed. I often wonder what she would have been like at this age. If her cancer wasn’t terminal. If she never got cancer at all. I would have a mother. How different would my life be.